MPU 154 - AppleTV

Did you know there are about a million ways to use the AppleTV for fun and profit? This week's MPU episode looks at the AppleTV in detail. We talk about using it for entertainment at home and presenting on the road. Listen to this episode to find out why I think the AppleTV might be the best $100 you can spend in an Apple Store. 

Sponsor: Rocket Matter and Free Ebook

Thanks Rocket Matter for supporting MacSparky.com

I've long believed that computing platforms will become increasingly less relevant as we move forward with cloud-based software. The legal profession is a good example where just a few years ago, everybody used Windows PCs.

That's not true any more and this week's RSS Sponsor, Rocket Matter, demonstrates why. These guys have built the premier web-based law practice management platform that takes care of all your needs to run a small (or large) law office.

If you are a legal professional, check them out. This week Rocket Matter also has a free ebook, 60 Apps in 60 Pages. This book has some great advice for anyone that pays for their shoes with their iPad and iPhone.

iThoughtsX Winners

Yesterday, I tweeted out that I’d give some iThoughtsX licenses away to readers that submitted interesting iThoughtsHD maps. Wow. So many great submittals. Winners were Will, Mitch, Dan, Lars, and Chris. Thanks everyone who submitted.

One of my favorites came from Dan, who mapped all the IFTTT services. This was made awhile ago. Can you imagine how big this would be with all of IFTTT's current services?

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Writing On The iPad: Text Automation with Editorial

I think there is a collective opinion among nerds that the release of Editorial for the iPad was a watershed event. Writing on the iPad has always been about compromises and this app, in some ways, is easier to write on than my Mac. Federico Viticci is very knowledgeable about being productive on the iPad in general and getting the most out of Editorial in particular. Now he's released a book on Editorial and it's on sale for $3 for a limited time.  

This would be great reading in preparation for an upcoming MPU episode where Federico will join us to talk about iOS text editing and Editorial. 

Home Screens: Victor Medina

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There are some really friendly, geeky lawyers out there. One such gent is Victor Medina (website) (Twitter) from New Jersey. Victor and I have presented together at the annual ABA TechShow on the Mac Track. As a labor of love, Victor runs the only tech-conference for Mac attorneys called MILOfest, which is held at DisneyWorld every fall.

This year, the conference is being held on October 24–26, 2013 and has my fellow MPU co-host Katie Floyd as one of the presenters. This is a great place to meet other Mac Savvy legal professionals and sharpen up your skills. As a bonus, Victor has agreed to open back up the Early Bird pricing for MacSparky readers.

Okay, Victor, show us your home screen.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

DockWorthy

Daylite

I run a law firm with 7 employees. I need a program that lets me work from the road, help manage other team members, and track the cases. Although I think there are some great solutions out there, the one that works best for me is Daylite. There are too many features to list, but I like that I can quickly check my calendar, or the pipeline status of any project, or even start a phone call that I can turn into a billing event right from the app.

Mail

I try not to live and die by email. But I fail, miserably.

OmniFocus

I think everyone should have a program on their phone that reminds them how they don’t measure up to their own expectations in life. OmniFocus is that program for me. I declare OF bankruptcy like I get a doggy treat for it. Seriously, I wouldn’t be able to get half the stuff I done that I do without GTD.

Messages

I figured I was aged out of joining the “I only message people as my primary means of communication” club. I was gloriously wrong. Thankfully, I’ve convinced most of my family and friends to use iPhones and iPads, so I can use Messages - which syncs (most of the time) between my iOS devices and my computers.

Front & Center Apps

A lot of the apps on my home screen have been featured in other Home Screen posts, and those that avoid the folder (and are therefor on my Home Screen) are apps I use every day.

Feedly

This is my default RSS reader, which I moved to after Google Reader shut down. I like its simple, clean interface and the fact that it syncs between the iPad & iPhone versions. I don’t read feeds on my computer, so I like this really well-designed iOS solution.

iCatcher

I haven’t tried many podcast-catching apps, but I like iCatcher because it can download new episodes automatically, and will sync across iOS devices. I can also throw video podcasts at it, which will also sync.

UP & Couch-to–5k

These are fitness apps that I use regularly. I’ve written about them before , but what I like about the apps are that they are beautiful. I don’t like ugly apps.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I have two guilty pleasure apps: NextDraft and PuzzleRetreat

NextDraft

Remember how I said I don’t like ugly apps? This has the ugliest icon and makes me wince whenever I look at it too long. However, the content inside is fantastic. Recommended to me by a good friend, NextDraft is a news app curated by Dave Pell. He is the algorithm. The articles are great, and the interface of the app is easy and fun to use. NextDraft is my night-reading.

PuzzleRetreat

I had to relocate this app to my second page, because I beat all the levels and it was sitting there mocking me with no new worlds to conquer. But,for about a month, I spent hours sliding virtual iceblocks across a virtual puzzleboard. I can’t wait for some more new levels.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

Honestly, it’s attached to me all day. I probably interact with my iPhone and iPad 5 or 6 times an hour. To be fair, though, everyone else I know has the same addiction. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I’m not breaking new ground with this concept, but I enjoy how good the hardware feels in my hand. It drives me nuts to see how many people wrap these beautiful things in ugly cases. I followMacSparky’s advice on using a case, which lets me hold and use these devices as Jobs intended.

The iPhone 5 is like a jeweled watch. The iPad mini is perfect in my small, meaty hands. Honestly, only the iPad Grande seems unwieldy and I don’t see myself ever getting one again.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I would make it much easier to add an app to a folder that’s located in a corner or at the edge of page. As it is, I pick the app, drag it over and try this about a dozen times until I can perfectly line it up with the folder. This only happens with folders in a corner or on the edge. It’s like “catching” the folder is its own game. Am I alone here? Utterly frustrating. I would set it up so that I can tap the app to select it, and then tap the folder to drop it in.

Oh, and I would totally make an iPad mini with Retina Display. That’s a device that I’d wake up at midnight to order. I’m hoping it’ll be announced on September 10th.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Appearing on a Home Screen post at MacSparky is a Bucket List item for me. I can die now. Thanks David.

Umm … Thanks Victor. Attending MILOFest one of these years is on my bucket list so we’re even.

iThoughtsX for the Mac

I’ve made no mystery of my love for iThoughtsHD. It is a great iPad app that finally brought home for me the utility of mind maps. It wasn’t long after I got hooked that I wrote the developer, Craig Scott, explaining how much I wanted iThoughts on my Mac. Craig wrote back with a very nice note explaining how he was focussing on iOS for the time being. So you can imagine my surprise when Craig wrote me about a month ago with a beta of iThoughtsX for the Mac. I’ve been using it ever since and now it is released for sale. If you like iThoughtsHD, you’re going to feel right at home with iThoughts X on your Mac.

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Many of the features I like about iThoughtsHD also appear in iThoughtsX. The color pallet includes Ethan Schoonover’s great Solarized color scheme. There is a rich assortment of line and box types along with icons and images. (I’ve got to admit I’ve never used iThoughts’ clipart feature.)

The Mac version also inherits the iPad version’s quick entry method. Need a child branch? Tap the space bar three times. Need a sibling branch? Tap return three times. This is so second nature to me that I spit out mind maps as fast as the ideas hit me.

Using these tools I’m able to quickly start assembling ideas for later use in writing or dictation. I described this workflow at length in MPU 82, Cooking Ideas.

Like its iPad predecessor, iThoughtsX also can export to several formats including PDF, Image, Docx, Powerpoint, OPML, Markdown, and CSV.

The Markdown support is particularly clever. You can drag Markdown text into a blank canvas and it automatically creates a mind map based on linked images and heading levels. You have to see this part to believe it so I made a short video. (Sarah, my 11 year old, provided the Ukulele music.)

The file format (.itmz) is the same used on iThoughtsHD for the iPad so you can move the file back and forth between the two platforms. The app is sold directly by the developer and not in the Mac App Store. Sadly, that means there isn’t any iCloud support but all of the iterations of iThoughts play nicely with Dropbox.

You can watch additional screencasts and view galleries at the iThoughts website. The app is $60 and available now.

 

Rating iTunes Music with an Unrated Smart Playlist

I’m increasingly relying on ratings for my iTunes playlists. Setting up smart playlists that just include four and five star music make it really easy to get your favorite music on an iTunes Match enabled iOS device. The trouble is I don’t have time to go hunting down unrated albums and when I do, I tend to spend way too much time fiddling with iTunes. Instead, I’ve created an “Unrated Jazz” smart playlist that looks like this.

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I’ve got several Jazz Genres including Cool, Bebop, Classic, Contemporary, Vocal, and more. They all have the word “Jazz” in their genre so this smart playlist pulls from them all.

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I’ll load this up in iTunes and then open the I Love Stars app that puts a rating doo-dad in my menu bar. I can start playing this smart playlist then and rate the songs as I work. Once I rate a song, it dissapears from the list and stops playing. I’ve then got to hit the play button on my keyboard or in I Love Stars to get the next song started.

I’ve been doing this for about a month and it is working. I’m getting through my jazz library without spending a lot of time fiddling. Moreover my other smart playlists built on ratings are getting a little better every day. Once this is done I am going to alter the list to attack some of my other favorite genres.

 

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ReadQuick Arrives on the iPhone

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Clayton Morris’s ReadQuick (App Store) (Website) recently received a nice update. The App now works on the iPhone. We talked about ReadQuick at some length on MPU Episode 127. If you are unfamiliar with it, ReadQuick is an app that helps you speed read through your marked articles. It probably sounds nutty but it really works and I use it often for both work and fun related reading.

They’ve also got a content partnering deal with Macworld and TechHive. Since these are two of my favorite publications, this is a great source of material even if I don’t have anything marked.

This is a free update if you’ve already bought the iPad version. if not, ReadQuick is $5.

 

MPU 153: Hardware Development with Geoff Barrall

We've had lots of software guys join us on the Mac Power Users but I've always been interested in talking with a hardware guy. Geoff Barrall describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. He's founded several companies that got successful hardware products to market including the Drobo and Transporter. Geoff is also a big Mac nerd like the rest of us. This week Geoff joined us to talk about how he uses his Apple gear and what's involved in developing and releasing hardware devices.

Sponsor: Rocket Matter

I'd like to thank Rocket Matter for sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. I've been writing and talking about Rocket Matter for a few months but now it's time for you to see how it really works. Rocket Matter is now giving free demonstrations to MacSparky readers. Are you a legal professional looking to end the insanity of broken, old-school practice management tools? Do you want to see how information based workers will manage their workflows, billings, and businesses in the future? Go check out Rocket Matter. 


 

 

iA Writer Gets Microsoft Word / Markdown Conversion

I often hear from readers asking for an easy way to jump between markdown and Microsoft Word. It's never really been that easy. The most recent version of iA Writer takes a lot of work out of this problem. They have built in a converter that goes between docx files (Microsoft Word 2007 or later) and markdown. You can drag and drop the word file on the icon and it opens as a markdown file. Conversely you can export a markdown file from inside the application to docx. 

Obviously there will be problems if you bring in multi column documents with advanced formatting outside the bounds of markdown. I tested it with a complicated document and it imported just fine but it did strip out some of the advanced formatting. 

There's a lot to like about iA Writer and I'm glad to see they're continuing to innovate.

 

Scummy App Copycats

I cannot understate how repulsive I find the actions reported in this Ars Technica article. An App Developer made a successful photo app called "A Beautiful Mess". The app was successful and then a group of copycats began submitting confusingly similar apps with names like "A Beautiful Mess Free" and "A Beautiful Mess +". In some instances, the copycats used identical icons and screenshots. The article opines how some developers will even grab the code from the original app and reverse engineer it. How does Apple not see what is going on here? If I submitted an app called "Logic Pro X Free" do you think it would get approved?  When someone so blatantly rips off another developer, Apple shouldn't only reject the app, they should also ban the developer. There simply is no excuse.

The tragedy is that with the approval process Apple has the ability to stop this practice in its tracks. Indeed, Apple is the only app store that can do this since it is the only one requiring approval.  As a community we need to put as much light on this as possible so, in addition to looking for malicious code, Apple also starts looking for (and banning) scummy developers. 

 

Transporter Beta Software 2.0

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If you are a Transporter owner, you may want to log in and check out the public beta for the new 2.0 software. It improves the experience several ways:

Better Interface

The new interface is really easy to use with the things you do most often. Creating folders can now be done right in the Finder. Sharing files is a right click away. When you drag-and-drop files and folders to your Transporter folder they will now automatically sync across all of your Transporters with no further setup required. I’ve combined this feature with some Hazel rules to make uploading podcast files a breeze.

File Links

No longer do recipients need a transporter account to receive file links. Did you get that? Load a big file on your Transporter, right click, share with anyone. Boom.

The Transporter Library

You can now limit what content gets placed on your local drive. For instance, if you are putting a big movie library on Transporter, you can keep it off your internal SSD.

This is beta software but I’ve been using it for awhile and had no problems. Moreover, I can’t imagine going back to the version 1 software. I’m spoiled.

If you want to try it out, login to the Transporter management website using your registered email and click the “Desktop & Mobile Software” link on the left side of the page to download the beta 2.0. Learn more here.

 

The Future of Cloud Sync

Over the past few years, cloud sync has become a "thing". Users are working on multiple platforms now more than ever and they want their data to seamlessly show up everywhere. As this demand first emerged, we naturally looked to companies dedicated to providing cloud synchronization to offer solutions. This led to the rise of Dropbox, Box.com, and other similar service providers. Shortly afterward, the big companies got involved and now Apple offers iCloud, Google offers a variety of synchronization services, and Microsoft is also in the game with SkyDrive. When this first started, I assumed that that would be the end of the discussion. Companies like Apple and Google would offer synchronization services for which software developers would plug in and we'd move on. The reason I was so willing to think synchronization stopped with companies like Apple and Google was because the servers and back-end required to make that happen were so expensive that small developers simply could not roll their own sync services. I'm no longer convinced that is the case.

Tying a key component of your software—such as synchronization—to somebody else's technology isn't a good idea if it can be avoided. For instance if a developer wants to use Apple's iCloud, she must sell her application through the App store. Even if there were no conditions tied to it, a developer is still relying upon the continued support from these large companies to keep their applications running. If it suddenly didn't make sense for Apple or Google to continue supporting synchronization or perhaps they made a small change that breaks syncing, the developer is screwed. Another problem with giving synchronization over to a different company is the loss of control. If a customer has a sync problem, there is a good chance the developer can do nothing about it. Tying to an app to iCloud also makes it difficult if you are selling on multiple platforms as well. iCloud doesn't support syncing to an android device.

For these reasons, app developers are looking to host their own synchronization services. This leads to what I would call the third phase of synchronization development. Specifically, app developer hosted synchronization. We are already seeing this happen. Earlier this year The Omni Group release its own synchronization service for its applications. I know that this was no small effort. The Omni Group spent years getting this right. Rovio has done the same with the popular Angry Birds franchise. The latest Dropbox initiative also seeks to provide a platform for developers to easily sync rudimentary bits of data for their applications. Wheels are now in motion.

While not all developers have the resources of companies like The Omni Group or Rovio, it is still early days. As people figure out this widget, it will get faster, easier, and cheaper to build. I suspect in the next two or three years, hosting and managing synchronize data will be a realistic option for small app developers. It makes a lot of sense for app developers to maintain control of this vital component of their software. 

So what does that mean for us users? For one thing, we are no longer going to have all our data-eggs in one synchronization basket. The reliability of a synchronization mechanism will become a key component when evaluating software. A great app with a lousy sync won't make the cut. Another effect of this will be the overriding concern for security. Instead of giving all of our data to Google or Apple, we are going to have bits and pieces of it spread out between various companies. Users are going to have to make a decision as to whether or not they can trust the vendor with key data before giving it to them for their synchronization engines. I also hope this generates a bit of an encryption arms race between vendors, resulting in better cloud encryption for users. Most importantly, this allows developers to control the entire widget and should result in a better user experience. 

We've witnessed a revolution in data sharing and syncing over the last five years. I think the next five should prove just as interesting.

 

MPU 152: Back to School

Mac Power Users episode 152 is up. In it Katie and talk about hardware and software tools for getting back to school. Prepping for this show I was struck by how many great tools students have these days. 

Sponsor: Hoban Cards

Hoban Press is sponsoring MacSparky.com this week. I’ve heard from many readers that love their new Hoban Cards pressed out of Hoban’s 1902 letterpress machine. I sure love mine.

Hoban Press

Hoban Press specializes in custom letterpress printed items like Business Cards and Stationery. This is the best choice if you need to use your own logo or artwork. They also provide design and layout services. I just received my new Hoban Press Stationary and am going to post about that soon.

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Home Screens - Shawn Blanc

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I've read one book on my vacation, Shawn Blanc's Delight is in the Details and it was an excellent choice. In addition to being an author, blogger, and all-around swell guy, Shawn (Website) (Twitter) loves his iPhone and agreed to share it here.

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What are your most interesting home screen apps?

  • VSCO Cam has become my favorite iPhone photo editing app. They’ve got quite a few filter presets, and several fine-tune-ability tweaks as well. When posting a cool photo to Instagram, I usually edit it first in VSCO Cam and then send it to Instagram.
  • The new Safari is my favorite iOS 7 app. There are quite a few design changes and improvements that make it leaps and bounds easier and more enjoyable to use than its predecessor.
  • Scratch is a great quick-capture app. I keep it in my Dock because it launches lickety-split with a blank text entry field. From there I can quickly jot down a fleeting note, a task, or whatever. And if I need to hang on to that note or do something with it, I can toss it from Scratch right into OmniFocus or Simplenote, or send it as an email or text message if I need to.

What is your favorite app?

I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. But…

If I had to pare my iPhone down to just one app, it’d probably be Simplenote. I share a lot of text between my iPhone, iPad and Mac. In the form of lists, ideas, notes, and articles-in-process. Right now those are split up into apps that do one thing well. So: OmniFocus for lists, Simplenote for ideas and notes, Byword (on Mac and iPhone) and Editorial on iPad for articles-in-process. But if I had to, I could consolidate those things into one app — Simplenote — and survive.

From a more personal context, Day One is also a favorite. Not only is the app itself well-designed and fun to use, but it’s become the place where I keep track of small and big life events.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Dots. A simple, whimsical game that seems so easy yet actually takes quite a bit of skill to excel in.

What is the app you are still missing?

A really great RSS reader that works tightly with Feed Wrangler.

When Google Reader shut down, I moved my RSS subscriptions over to Feed Wrangler. Reeder has long been my favorite RSS reading app, and though it works with Feed Wrangler, it doesn’t fully support all of its APIs (such as Feed Wrangler’s smart streams and filters). I’d love for Reeder to get tighter integration with Feed Wrangler, or else have another really great iPhone RSS app come along.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

Two less than the legal limit.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone?

Hardware-wise, it’s still the Retina display. Though LTE speeds are very nice, and the day-long battery life is great, the screen is the “window” into the soul of the iPhone.

Anything Else You’d Like to Share?

San Dimas High School Football rules.

Thanks Shawn.